KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With edge rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford healthy once again and second-round draft pick Breeland Speaks joining the mix, the Chiefs defense depends on its front seven putting heat on opposing quarterbacks this season to relieve the burden on a banged up and retooled secondary.
Based upon how his pass rush handled Philip Rivers in Sunday's 38-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Andy Reid likes what he sees so far.
“There was pressure, he had to move in the pocket you saw that by a couple of the throws that he had,” Reid said Monday afternoon.
Statistically Dee Ford turned in the best numbers, tallying a sack and four quarterback hits. He spent most of the game on the defensive's left side working against right tackles Joe Barksdale and Sam Trevi.
Injuries have plagued Ford the past two seasons. He ranked among the league leaders with 10 sacks in the first nine games of the 2016 season before a hamstring injury zapped him as of his speed the last half of the season. His battled a back injury last year, which limited him to two sacks in six games. The Chiefs carefully managed Ford's workload through the offseason and training camp, hoping to keep him fresh for the regular season.
“We were able to get him through camp where he was feeling good and had no setbacks,” Reid said. “I thought it was just a matter of getting him on the field where he was healthy.”
For Ford, he hopes his Week 1 performance as just the beginning of returning to the form he showcased in the first half of 2016.
“It's one thing to get a sack and kind of be out of control,” Ford said. “Once you're in control and you're really in your element, a lot of sacks can come in bunches.”
Ford also had help from his teammates, especially fellow edge rusher Justin Houston and defensive end Chris Jones. While Houston and Jones didn't pick up any sacks, they constantly hurried and harassed Rivers throughout the game.
“I thought both of them did well,” Reid said.
The NFL's new Next Gen Stats illustrate why the Chiefs appreciated the contributions of Houston and Jones, even if they had nothing to show on the stat sheet. The state capture speed and acceleration for every player on the field, including separation between pass rushers and quarterbacks on each play.
The league average for separation for quarterback is 4.49 yards per rush. Houston averaged 3.67 yards of separation from Rivers on Sunday, followed by Jones at 3.72 yards and Ford at 3.77 yards.
Yet despite the relative success pressuring Rivers, the Chiefs defense still yielded 424 yards passing and three touchdowns to Rivers. Reid said that reflects issues on the backend of the defense in the secondary.
“We had a couple of communication things and then we got beat on a couple,” Reid said. “We were fortunate that they dropped the ball.”
Ron Parker started at safety for the Chiefs, just one week after returning to the club after spending the offseason and training camp with Atlanta. The Falcons releases Parker after the club's final preseason game, and he signed with the Chiefs two days later, rejoining a club he spent the past five seasons with. He and Eric Murray filled in for anticipated starters Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen. Berry remains out day-to-day with a sore heel while Sorensen must miss at least the first eight weeks of the season on injured reserve with a tibial plateau fracture.
“We've got to tighten it up a little bit on the back end in some areas, however I thought Parker played well and he made a lot of tackles and a lot of plays,” Reid said.
The Chiefs next head to Pittsburgh, facing a club who had their number in recent years. The Chiefs have dropped their last three games to the Steelers and six of their last season, including a 19-13 loss in Kansas City last season. Reid said the Chiefs must come out aggressive next week to have a chance in key AFC road game.
“When you play Pittsburgh that's how you have to play them,” Reid said. “You've got to be ready for a fist fight when you go in there and play that football team.”